You might find yourself asking the question, “Why is the image for this post a crappy photo of Carcassonne?” Well, my friend, the reason is that when I took this photo in 2010, I didn’t have an iPhone 15 to help me out.

My wife and I were in France for a while (back in the day); she was at pastry school, and I was doing consulting work. We took a road trip in the fall and ended up in Carcassonne for a weekend. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of this little restaurant we went to for lunch. We ended up at this restaurant in the before times (as in, before the primary thing people did at restaurants was take photos of their food). I digress.

We arrived in Carcassonne on a quiet Thursday shortly before lunch and were starving. All I remember of the place we ate was that it was a tiny, nondescript restaurant on a corner (maybe ten tables) with glass facing the street on both sides. And the restaurant knew exactly what it was.

The memory of our trip came to me today as I’ve just finished spending three days making Cassoulet for a gathering of friends this weekend.

Have you ever had Cassoulet? It’s commonly called a ‘peasant dish’ in France, a white bean stew famous for its deep flavours and rich history. It traditionally features slow-cooked white beans, duck or goose confit, sausages, and pork or lamb.

It sounds boring on paper.

And yet, it’s magic. A well-made Cassoulet could easily be in the top 10 things I’ve ever eaten. After having Cassoulet in France for the first time, I was determined to make it at home for friends. I found a traditional recipe from Toulouse and spent three days cooking it for friends. That dinner was nine years ago, and some of my friends still say it was the best meal they’ve ever had.

But any meal is not just the food; it’s the experience, the created memories, the interactions, and the room. The restaurant is its own person, in a way, and if it doesn’t know “who he is,” it can feel uncomfortable spending time with him.

Have you ever walked into a restaurant (or a coffee shop or bakery) and felt confused? Did the place feel off? I hate it when I walk into a coffee shop, restaurant, or bakery and I get the feeling that “this place doesn’t know what it is” or “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here.”

One of the places I love to read about restaurant operations is Reddit. A few months ago, there was a business owner who posted several photos from their menu and asked the community for feedback in the form of a question: “Anything I should do to fix my menu?”. Unfortunately, the owner has deleted the post, so I won’t share the screenshot I took of the menu here, but it was chaotic. The restaurant’s name would lead you to believe it was Mexican. Yet, the menu consisted of approximately 45 items just for entrees and contained Mexican, Italian, Greek, Thai and Fusion cuisine. They need to make some changes, or they’re gonna fail fast, and not the good way.

The menu’s appearance led me to believe that the restaurant had been established for a long time, maybe even 20-30 years, but it was clear that, at this point, they were suffering. Maybe their menu had been that way for a long time; maybe it used to work for them.

This restaurant’s menu is a great example of a scenario where you likely have an “important but not urgent” problem around restaurant identity and menu content. If you haven’t read it, check out our blog post about not getting distracted by the wrong things where we talk about restaurant expenses and the Eisenhower Matrix as a tool to help with decision making.

When you know who you are, you can create better experiences for your customers. When you know who you are, your customers won’t come back only for your food; they’ll come back for the experience, for the comfort of being in a place that is comfortable being itself.

Stay tuned for more content where we give examples of restaurants and other food businesses doing this exceptionally well.

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Daniel Wintschel

Daniel is the founder and senior developer of Recipe Cost Calculator. He also co-founded and built Kitchening & Co. (a wholesale bakery) with his wife Carly Wintschel. He sold Kitchening & Co. in 2021. With over 20 years of software development experience and over 10 years in small scale food processing and manufacturing, he knows a ton about helping you with your food business, and writing software relevant to food businesses.

More than 20,000 food businesses in over 50 countries have used Recipe Cost Calculator to help them build profitable food businesses.

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